It is relatively rare for an executive to face criminal prosecution for workplace safety violations, even when workers are badly hurt or die due to the safety lapse. Although it is unusual, it does occur sometimes. Recently, the CEO of a coal company was sentenced to a year imprisonment as well as to a fine of $250,000 and an additional year of supervision. Safety advocates, however, believe the leniency of the sentence the CEO faced– coupled with the rarity of prosecutions like this one– make the threat of criminal prosecution an ineffective deterrent for bad behavior on the part of employers.
Employers need to have strong incentive to make workplaces as safe as possible, since thousands of workers continue to suffer injuries and fatalities each year on-the-job. When you are hurt at work or someone you love dies while performing work tasks, contact an Atlanta workers’ compensation lawyer to get the help you need recovering benefits for losses.
Can Criminal Charges Prevent Atlanta Workplace Safety Violations?
The CEO who was charged was the executive officer at Massey Coal. The coal company has a very long history of citations for safety violations, according to Safety News Alert. Despite being fined and cited in the past, the coal company did not improve working conditions.
Fines imposed by regulatory authorities like the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) are often relatively low, which means they fail to provide enough incentive to encourage employers to take workplace safety seriously. This is especially an issue since OSHA inspections are few-and-far between due to understaffing at the agency. Employers don’t have to worry about big fines, and they know the odds are good they will face no fines at all.
Criminal prosecutions like the case against the CEO could be a deterrent, as employers may act more responsibly if they personally know they could face consequences like jail time. The problem is, not only are criminal prosecutions extremely uncommon, but the penalties are typically minimal when they occur.
In the case of the coal CEO, for example, he was convicted of one of the charges brought against him, although he wasn’t convicted of all the crimes he had been charged with. He was acquitted on several charges related to filing false claims and securities fraud. He was convicted of conspiring to violate mining safety regulations. The maximum penalty for this offense was a year in prison and a fine, which is the sentence the CEO received.
At first glance, this may seem like it is a solid penalty for a misdemeanor crime of violating safety rules. However, the charges were brought in connection with the deaths of 29 miners. The prosecutor’s evidence showed the CEO micromanaged operations, required progress reports every half hour, and put pressure on managers to cut corners on safety.
His actions were a direct cause of the explosion which killed the miners, and yet he faced just a year imprisonment at most. This type of lenient sentencing means criminal charges may not be as effective a deterrent as they should be in preventing workplace safety violations from happening.
The Atlanta workplace accident lawyers at Sammons & Carpenter, P.C. can represent employees or their families after a workplace injury or death. Call today at (404) 814-8949 or contact us online to schedule your free consultation.